Circumcision of male genitalia was widely practised in the ancient near east, as Herodotus (2.104) was aware. In general both Greeks and Romans found the custom repulsive and ridiculous, which led to tensions especially with Jews, for whom circumcision, as a religious imperative, played a central role in establishing cultural identity. Jewish circumcision was prohibited by *Antiochus (4) IV Epiphanes and probably by *Hadrian, but *Antoninus Pius specifically permitted Jews to circumcise their own sons (Dig. 48.8.11). Although *Josephus wrote that other peoples, including Egyptian priests, practised circumcision in his day (Ap. 2.141–44), it was generally regarded as a distinctively Jewish custom by Greeks, Romans, and early Christians. Apostates from Judaism sometimes used epispasm, a surgical procedure to reverse circumcision, and rabbis after the *Bar Kokhba revolt changed the method of Jewish circumcision to make such reversal more difficult.
There is little evidence of conversion to Israelite religion or Judaism in Jewish scriptures. For instance, while later rabbis understood the book of Ruth to portray the conversion of Ruth to Judaism, the book itself repeatedly refers to her as a Moabite, even after she declares to her mother-in-law Naomi that “your people will be my people, and your God will be my God” (Ruth 1:16). Similarly, the Hebrew text of Esther 8:17 portrays numerous Gentiles Judaizing: “Many peoples of the land Judaized because fear of the Jews fell upon them.” The Septuagint translation (LXX) adds that this “Judaization” included circumcision. While some scholars believe that this verse refers to conversion, the author claims that this action was taken only out of fear of the Jews. These Gentiles did not Judaize out of religious conviction; rather, they merely pretended to be Jews to avoid Jewish retaliation for the violent machinations of Haman.
Documents made of leather and papyrus, and, in one case, of copper, found between 1947 and 1956 in caves near Qumran by the Dead Sea. The scrolls, written by Jews, are mostly in Hebrew and
, but a small number are in Greek. Many are fragments of biblical texts from the Old Testament and from Jewish religious compositions otherwise only preserved through Christian manuscript traditions. The scrolls were written in the last centuries
Of particular significance in the study of *Judaism in this period are the texts composed by sectarians, whose relationship to the nearby settlement site at Qumran is debated. These texts include community rules, hymns, liturgical texts, calendars, and works of bible interpretation. Among this last group is found the pesher type of interpretation, characteristic of this sect and rarely found elsewhere in Jewish literature, in which the real meaning of scriptural passages is alleged to lie in hidden allusions to more recent events.
Martin J. Brooke
Eupolemus (fl. c. 150
Author of the Exagoge, a tragedy in Greek about Moses and the escape of the Israelites from Egypt. Nothing is known of his life, but he must have been a Hellenized Jew active between the late 3rd and early 1st cent.